The Sunday Leader

Debt Burden Should Be Reduced – R. Sampanthan

by Thushari Nathaniel

Opposition Leader and Leader of the Tamil National Alliance, R. Sampanthan, says that to ensure success in development, the debt burden of the country should be reduced and eventually eliminated. He also points out that the government should minimize wastage through extravagant spending and ensure that corruption is eliminated.

In an interview with The Sunday Leader he noted that there should be meaningful development that will benefit the people, and added that steps should be taken in order to bring in more investment to the country and uplift the export sector that would generate much needed foreign income.

R. Sampanthan also highlighted the fact that in spite of repeated appeals, the issue of political prisoners has not yet been fully resolved. Hence he called upon the government to take positive action without delay with regard to the issue of political prisoners.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q:  In spite of the people expecting the UNP to get the country’s economy on track, today the country is facing numerous economic issues. How do you see this situation?

A:  Managing the economy is a continuing process. This government has taken over an economy which was in very bad shape. The country is in chronic debt and the country’s income is unable to service the debt. The country needs to muster the money to be able to manage the economy while also devoting its attention at the same time to investment, particularly foreign investment that would develop the economy and provide employment and relief to the people.  This government, according to statements made by Prime Minister in Parliament and policies announced in the media, is engaged in that process. They need to be given some time.


Q: What are the main issues you see in the good governance regime?

A: One of the main issues with the good governance regime is that two parties – the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – are in alliance. The President comes from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Prime Minister comes from the United National Party. I think they are able to work with each other, but there seems to be some difficulties in the two parties working together. That is because each party desires to be in absolute power.

The two parties need to realize that they have come together as an alliance to form a government to achieve certain objectives in the best interests of the country and that they need to be together to be able to achieve those objectives. The country thinks that both parties have the good sense to realize that this is a matter in which they cannot fail.


Q:  The Tamils still lamenting in jail were very hopeful that this government will give them some solace. Why is the TNA not pushing the government to fulfill their promise to these people?

A: In regard to the persons lamenting in jails, we have done our best to get them released and it’s a continuing process. All these persons were taken into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.  The government has undertaken to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and it is our view that if these persons were taken to custody under a law which the Government is unable to sustain then those persons must be released.

Our efforts to have these persons released is a continuing effort and we would request the Government to take positive action without any further delay in regard to the persons who are still in custody.


Q: While the government is blaming the previous regime for borrowing heavily for the development of the country, this government too is borrowing heavily claiming they have to repay the debts taken by the previous regime. Do you think this is a good strategy?

A: Management of the economy is both repaying the debt incurred in previous times particularly under the last government and also ensuring that there is substantial investment made in the country to achieve development, create employment opportunities, and give the people a quality of life higher than what they enjoy now. These two processes have to go together. They are linked to each other. Success in development requires that the debt burden of the country be reduced and eventually eliminated.

The government should ensure that there is no waste,no extravagance, no corruption and all the investment made in the country is concentrated towards meaningful development that will beneficial to the people bringing to the country adequate returns. In addition to the above, the Government should also focus more on bringing in investments to manufacture products that can be exported.


Q: The issues faced by the Tamils in the North, especially land and military occupation, is still unresolved. What action are you going to take regarding the government’s failure to resolve these issues?

A: Many issues pertaining to the Tamils in the North and East remain to be resolved. In the matter of land, it is our position that these lands were taken over by the military to ensure security and high-security zones were declared in these areas to prevent the LTTE using their artillery against installations in these areas. Today we are in a stage where there is no LTTE, no LTTE artillery and the justification for the takeover of the lands does not prevail any longer. These lands were owned by the people in which they lived, cultivated and earned income for generations and centuries.

Therefore, it is our contention that these lands must be released and that the persons who originally occupied these lands must be able to get back to those lands. Some lands have been released by the government. Action is being taken with regard to the release of some more lands but we do think that this process must be expedited and should not be delayed. It’s unfortunate that the military is still engaged in cultivating in some of these lands and also in commercial activities which has a harmful impact on the lives of the people who live particularly in the North. This should come to an end immediately.

The Government’s programme to develop the North and the East needs to be more cohesive and so as to address the important needs of the people particularly in the matter of resettlement, housing, livelihood, etc. After the war the people were rendered destitute. They cannot pick up their lives without adequate assistance from government. Steps taken in this direction are inadequate and not properly coordinated. The government should engage in a cohesive coordinated programme to bring about a change.


Q: The committee appointed to seek public views with regard to the new constitution has said that the Tamil people do not want a federal solution. Has the TNA now changed its stance or are you still asking for a federal system?

A: Federal arrangements in many parts of the world have proved to be quite successful and have brought people together and kept people together. The perception that federalism can lead to separation is incorrect. There are many models of federalism Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, in all parts of the world. However, this is a matter which needs to be addressed by the Constitutional Assembly and by all the political parties and we should be able to work out an arrangement bearing in mind the history of the conflict, the consequences of the conflict and what needs to be done to give all the people of this country a sense of belonging and to make all the people realize that Sri Lanka is their own country.

That is the challenge before us and I think we should approach it with good sense without prejudice and in such a way that we are able to achieve the required results.


Q: Regarding the investigations that are being carried out against those of the previous regime, are you satisfied with the pace of the investigations?

A: Investigations take time and they should not be unduly delayed, beyond that I think the law should take its course.

Q: What is your view about the delay in holding the LG elections?

A: The main reason for the postponement of the Local Government elections has been that in the process of delimitation under the previous government there have been some manipulations to ensure verdicts favourable to the former government. This is the reason that government has advanced for the postponement of the elections. But we do think that once this matter had been addressed elections should take place thereafter at the very earliest. People should not be denied their democratic right to elect their Local Government institutions.

Q: Has the good governance regime stood up to your expectations?

A: The present government has been in office only for about a year. They have many problems to face. Despite the problems that they face they should ensure that the burden of the common citizen is not made harsher. At the same time they have to ensure development. It is not an easy mix.

The government should, without imposing further burdens on poorer sections of the society, not fail in developing the country so as to enable the people of this country to have a better future. The activities of the government would suggest that they are engaged in this programme and they need to be given some time to be able to implement these programmes.

Q: With regard to the development of the country, there are allegations that the pace of development is very slow under the new regime. Do you agree?

A: It is important that we have beneficial development.Development that does not yield benefits would be purposeless. The people would like to see faster development.


1 Comment for “Debt Burden Should Be Reduced – R. Sampanthan”

  1. suna are the funniest deaf dumb and blind opposition leader in our country’s history.( sorry for the comment )

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